What constitutes spam?

So I always thought I knew what spam was & I may still know what it is, but I came across a guy who built a script that will search through CL (Craigs List) & send people who have ads there an e-mail from me, you, etc.

I always thought this was spam, but he’s telling me it’s not, not if you:

  1. Divulge your snail mail address
  2. Give them a way for them to unsubscribe (I’m not putting them on a list, I’m only sending them some info, it’s up to them to sign up for one of my lists)
  3. I’m contacting people who would want what I have to sell as they are in my industry. I’m not trying to sell people on circles if their interest/industry is squares.

So is he correct? Can I approach these people?

While you & I may not like telemarketing, isn’t this just telemarketing via the Internet as apposed to spam?

Maybe the laws have changed since I last read them. It was many years ago.



I’m not an attorney and this just what I know of the act but SPAM carries large penalties and is one of those things you do want counsel for if you’re going to try and skirt the rules.

There’s many definitions to SPAM both legal and practical.

In the US the CAN SPAM act does not actually stop the sending of unsolicited mail but rather it establishes guidelines around all commercial email including disclosures like an address, a clear indication that you’re sending an ad, opt out methods and prompt follow up, etc. You can read the act’s compliance tips here.

Telemarketing has similar rules which go even further with the Do Not Call registry and optouts… invasive marketing is possible but less and less so [legally].

There’s additional issues with sites like Craigslist. First you have a terms of service agreement which prohibts you from sending commercial email to people who request not to get any [as shown in their ads]. That’s not related to CAN SPAM but rather an agreement between you and the service. Second you have masked emails which means that you can’t honor an optout properly because, if someone leaves your list, you wouldn’t know if you were emailing them again.

Many other countries have much more strict rules that do prohibit the sending of unrequested [not optted in/out] email which is what most people consider spam to be. Of course in a global world, the lines are blurry about what happens when a business based in Panama but with a domain registered in the US spams someone in the AU. Smart planning says err on the side of most restrictive law.

This leads us into the most important area: ethics and perception. You say people “want” your message, that’s subjective. After 15 years of web forms, I get lots of SPAM but even if I respond the message positively that doesn’t mean I wanted it, it merely means they got lucky on timing. I get a lot of newsletter that I did request, I barely want those [research, purposes] and no is in the position to tell me that what they have is something I would have actually wanted.

Even if you stay on the right side of the law, sending unsolicited mail is considered bad business these days, and for good reason. Many companies will refuse to host you, payment processors won’t take money for you and of course people tend to be very negative towards you often blogging and blacklisting your site around the web. It only takes a few negatives before the #1 result in Google is attacking you. None of that is good if you want a long term, growth focused business.

“Want” wasn’t the best word for me to use. They would need it, but obviously the choice is always there’s since I don’t force anyone.

Well I was hoping that things were different, but I guess not LOL

I did bring up that “no commercial notices” to the guy as that’s what stopped us in the first place from getting someone to respond to their ads, but he just brushed it off.

Anyway, thanks, it was as I suspected. It’s back to the drawing board :slight_smile:


Thanks for the link. I have been considering sending emails to a few businesses and inquiring as to whether or not they would be interested in purchasing advertising on my site. These emails would not be bulk automated emails. But a few emails here and there to targeted businesses. Now I’m not sure if that would be considered spam or not.

At a maximum fine of $16,000 per violation, this is a serious issue.

I don’t know, I think it’s normal to approach companies you know may be interested in your products. While it’s a lot easier, I don’t see how it’s any different than walking into a brick & mortar & peddling one’s wares. It’s been done like that since the test of time.

Unfortunately REAL spammers that send junk all over the place to the entire universe has ruined it for us well meaning entrepreneurs.

P.S. I don’t think bulk is a problem so long as it’s a person you know that’s in your industry & if there’s a way to tweak each e-mail to talk directly to the person in question, that’s a bonus. That’s what this guy’s software does.

Australia has effective anti-spam laws (or at least they would be if the rest of the world also adopted them).

In Australia you must already have a relationship of some sort in order to send someone an email that isn’t spam. This means that they either bought something from you, have made some sort of inquiry, or have opted in to receive emails from you.

Basically anyone you haven’t had direct dealings with would need to sign up on your site and would then be sent one email containing a link they have to click on to confirm that it was them who signed up. Until they click that link any additional emails you send them would be defined as spam.

The only reason this system doesn’t prevent spam is that all the spam emails come from the USA and other places that have no effective laws preventing it. Most of the spam I receive says it complies with the US laws that allow the sending of spam provided that it contains an “I’m a real person so please send me lots more spam” link at the bottom.

In b2b a certain amount of cold pitching is certainly expected and while sending individual emails to a few select companies yourself with a message will yield a very small response rate, no one who you have a direct connection too will really balk at you messaging them. It’s individual outreach and it happens online, in snail mail and in person every day.

When you start talking about automation and harvesting emails [which is what scraping Craigslist is] you’ve crossed well over into the “real” spam world. Sure your volumes are lower but it’s still bulk messaging. That’s your line. People are not going to Craigslist to be contacted by you and they explicit say this on their listings [almost everyone checks the “do not contact me with commercial services” button"]. I’m still not a lawyer but start mass messaging those people through their network and you’ll lucky if all that happens is Craigslist bans your domain --you’ve got a contractual agreement with Craigslist to use their site, CAN SPAM is only part of the equation:

You agree not to post, email, or otherwise make available Content:

l) that constitutes or contains any form of advertising or solicitation if:
posted in areas of the craigslist sites which are not designated for such
purposes; or emailed to craigslist users who have not indicated in writing that
it is ok to contact them about other services, products or commercial interests

Additionally, you agree not to:

r) contact anyone who has asked not to be contacted, or make unsolicited
contact with anyone for any commercial purpose;

u) use automated means, including spiders, robots, crawlers, data mining
tools, or the like to download data from the Service - unless expressly
permitted by craigslist;


You understand and agree that sending unsolicited email advertisements to
craigslist email addresses or through craigslist computer systems, which is
expressly prohibited by these Terms, will use or cause to be used servers
located in California
. Any unauthorized use of craigslist computer systems
is a violation of these Terms and certain federal and state laws, including
without limitation the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (18 U.S.C. § 1030 et
seq.), Section 502 of the California Penal Code and Section 17538.45 of the
California Business and Professions Code. Such violations may subject the
sender and his or her agents to civil and criminal penalties.

So by all means, talk to businesses you know and have a connection with but know that line. Ignorance is not a defense in the eyes of the law.

I am not a lawyer, but I understand the situation here in New Zealand is as follows:

  • NZ law applies if the sender, recipient, beneficiary or server is in NZ (political parties excluded, quelle surprise)
  • a previous relationship can constitute implied consent, depending on if an appropriate time has passed. Ie. if the service is bought every 3 years, 4 years may be fine, if it is bought every month, 2 years is probably not ffine
  • in some situations consent can be implied. There was a case of a school supplies supplier emailing all schools. He was fine to do this by getting the emails of the school websites, but if any of the schools had had a message anywhere on the page with the email to not send email marketing, he would not be fine for this school (hence it is guaranteed to fail 2nd time)
  • you need to offer a free way to unsubscribe
  • any other method I choose to unsubscribe, you need to act upon within a reasonable time frame (there’s your method to terrorize annoying senders)
  • electronic communication is email, fax, SMS
  • bulk is not a criteria

Incidentally I just got called by internal affairs for a complaint I made in June 2010 - they are pursuing it.

HTH, Jochen

I heard you the first time Ted.


That doesn’t stop companies selling email lists here in Australia. A client of mine rushed out to buy a huge list of company emails in industries related to his own. The seller (a reputable company) assured him that all those companies had opted in to have their email addresses sold like this. (Really?) Anyhow, I said I didn’t like it, and the email list was rejected by the company I use to send out emails … confirming my feeling that is was not considered legitimate.

Let’s face it: we are assaulted more and more these days by people trying to push stuff at us. Apart from the media, there are phone calls, junk in letter boxes, and now (where I live at least) endless knocks at the door. (I’m amazed the murder rate hasn’t risen since that became more common.) Email is the same: it’s almost a dud technology now because of all the spam. A huge % of legitimate email (that people have signed up to receive) is not read these days, so I suspect that unsollicited stuff has even less of an open rate.

A better approach is to make proper connections with businesses and actually talk to people about what you do and what can offer—through proper meetings, events, social media etc.

Not to start an argument, b/c I HATE spam, but I’m talking REAL spam, not something that someone is pitching to me that I may be interested in based on my industry & needs. In fact if I could find a way to report everyone of them, I would.

I tried to with spam cop & spam cop in the end blocked me. Their interface is terrible I learned as I researched & found out they did this to others too, so I stopped reporting. Stopped with Spam Assasin b/c they have a bug in CPanel that cost me probably months of man hours & in the end I figured out it’s just a piece of garbage, so now I am just using the junk feature on TB which yes I know is run by SA, but at least this works this way.

But I digress. My point was to show you that I detest spam.

BUT, I once read an article or saw a news magazine show where a spammer stated that there are TONS of people that open his mail. If there wasn’t, he wouldn’t still be spamming. Unfortunately he’s probably right.

So just b/c you & I hate spam doesn’t mean that idiotic people who don’t know any better or see something they like don’t open the mail at some point in time.

As for e-mail being a dead avenue to reach people, many researchers & IMs will disagree with you.

I could never ditch e-mail. That’s all I do all day is e-mail back & forth to communicate.

How your e-mail gets opened is based solely on who you are & your subject line. That’s the bottom line.

Hope you are all having a great wknd.


Direct communication can be murky, it’s a great topic to discuss…

Define need. People sending medication ads know that almost everyone “needs” some sort of medication. Adult message reach many people who are buying adult services. Every business owner needs a corporate filing at some point. Or members here, I’m posting about internet marketing, by that logic, a SMB email service provider would be able to email me because they see an interest. I don’t.

We all consider our offer relevant and it may very well be to some people on a list, but the simple fact is that it’s really only the person who gets the message who can decide if they need it. Thus optin/optout.

As I said before, I don’t think there’s any harm in selectively and personally pitching people who you have a direct knowledge of. Emailing the VP of Purchasing at Walmart once to request a meeting for a new product or calling him/her… it’s the same thing. But if you start trying to buy lists of Purchasing VPs to bulk message, blast their entire company to find one team member or sign them up for a weekly newsletter without asking, you’ve changed the equation. The same is true of when you automate to an audience that you don’t know the actual identity of… there are lots of murky areas in communication but volume and identity are pretty clear.

As for e-mail being a dead avenue to reach people, many researchers & IMs will disagree with you.

Hard results too. Email marketing [to an opt-in list] has been at the top of the ROI ladder for years now. That may change, but not this week.

How your e-mail gets opened is based solely on who you are & your subject line. That’s the bottom line.

Timing has a big impact too that’s all the same idea. However none of that matters if the email never makes it over in the first place.

And don’t under estimate the reputation of the sender – ran a few name tests on million email list a while back – the response on a known brand is pretty insane even with email “being dead” :smiley:

Thanks Ted